Casey Avery chatted with her sons while they waited their turn — excited to see what was in the give-away bags at this year’s back to school prep event. Volunteers searched through a room full of bags for the one labeled Avery, featuring new sneakers in the boys’ sizes.
Homer Congregational Church held its sixth annual back to school event Saturday, providing resources and essential supplies to prepare families for the school year. More than 315 registered K-12 students received free sneakers, socks, underwear, shampoo, soap, washcloth, and a toothbrush with toothpaste.
“I really look forward to the sneakers, because we usually get them new pairs but they always grow up a size,” said Avery. Besides, back-to-school shopping for both her first-grader and fourth-grader can be expensive.
Last year, the church transitioned the event into a drive-through pick-up to help with social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great because I don’t have to get the kids out,” Avery said.
The line of cars continued for hours Saturday morning. This year, the church had 90 more kids signed up than last summer, said Carol Costell Corbin, outreach team leader for the church and associate director of advisement and transition at SUNY Cortland.
“We invited sponsors — lots of people from our church and also sponsors from the community,” Costell Corbin said. Parents registered their kids online and included their sizes and favorite color, so sponsors could pick out supplies special for each child.
“It all started because we knew a teacher who had seen kids putting duct tape on their shoes,” Costell Corbin said. “There are drives to donate papers and pencils and backpacks, but there wasn’t anyone doing something like this. Once we started, we saw how many people came and knew that we’d hit a niche.”
The church purchased 150 pairs of shoes and several gift cards for kids on the waiting list, from the Shoe Dept. in Cortland. The store gave the church a 15% discount to show support for the children in the community.
Neighbors and local organizations donated money to help fund the event, including the Brockway Foundation, the Homer Elks Lodge and St. Margaret’s Catholic Church, and the Cortland YMCA donated gift cards to Tops supermarket.
“The way that people have come through — the generosity that this community has expressed made me weep,” said Rev. Vicki Burtson.
Lori Schmidt, church volunteer and a school psychologist at Homer Intermediate School, said each family also received a bag of household goods, including paper towels and cleaning wipes, donated by the Salvation Army.
Adding to the paper goods bags, the church included a packet of community resources for the parents, such as the Mobile Crisis Team, the suicide prevention hotline and veterans resources.
“I think it’s important for every family to have those resources available,” Schmidt said. “Mental health concerns are paramount right now, especially this year, so if we can provide somebody with a way to reach out and get some mental health help — whether it’s in a time of crisis or just because they feel like they need it — we’re happy to do that.”
Hoping to help take another thing off parents’ shoulders, the First United Methodist Church next door had volunteers handing out bags of food from the Homer Food Pantry. Catering toward youthful appetites, the food bags included cereals, granola bars, macaroni and cheese, and other lunch box classics.
“Everything we do is just to help others in need,” said Alice Conway, church member and volunteer at the food pantry.
“We just need to get out to more people in other areas, we don’t really see them come here.”